Man is an image-making and image-worshipping creature. Every last man has his religion worshipping his god. Gays have their Judy Garland, Woodstockers their Burning Man, and Global Warmists their Mother Nature and St. Greta.
Christians have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Now then, each of us with our co-religionists lives under the authority of certain men whose calling from God is to protect life and keep the peace between their fractious subjects while also keeping their fractious subjects from killing them because of how they protect life and keep the peace.
Theirs is no easy job. Religion is one of the things people fight about so, although it’s not the only reason we refer to politics as the art of the possible, it’s one of the bigger ones.
Enter the Coronavirus.
On the one hand, pretty much everyone agrees the civil authorities are in charge and need to wield their swords (the police authority delegated them by God) for the protection of life. It would be weird if we were protected from a hostile invasion of a missile sort, but not a virus sort. No one will be pleased by civil authorities who sit by while their subjects die from attacks those civil authorities had the calling and authority to protect us from.
On the other hand, is anyone ever pleased to be protected by someone in authority over them?
Just ask the law enforcement officer whether he enjoys entering the house where there’s a domestic dispute? Ask the elder’s wife whether it’s enjoyable to meet with a young woman of the congregation reported to be fornicating with another congregation’s youth pastor? Ask your pastor whether it’s an affirming experience to preach repentance?
Then, of course, everyone’s favorite whipping boy: think of the TSA’s endless queues, finicky tray rules, and virtual strip-searches.
All of us need protection, yet most of us resent it. Who knows this better than a pastor?
So one would think we pastors might have sympathy for authorities trying to protect us from COVID-19 just now, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Speaking of myself, for instance, the other day I walked into a store to return a large gas can that leaked. The returns desk was a few feet to my right just inside the front door and I was irritated by the kind and gentle young woman who was insistent I could not walk to that desk without putting a large shopping cart in front of me and pushing it those few feet to the returns desk. I wasn’t shopping and wouldn’t be near anyone other than the returns clerk behind her counter where a shopping cart would be nothing but a hindrance.
You get it? The store’s authorities were trying to protect me, but was I thankful for them?
No, I knew better than they knew.
Isn’t that what it means to be Reformed Christian today—to know better than everyone else? Wonder of wonders, though, I found enough submission in me to obey the gentle young woman.
Right now civil authorities are giving their sheep orders intended to protect us from Coronavirus. You’re their sheep, they’re your shepherds, and they are trying to protect you. It’s just as in the Church where elders are shepherds and work hard to protect their flock.
Our civil authorities’ work is hard for a number of reasons beyond the cantankerous resistance of large political blocs of their sheep.
For instance, from the moment we first heard of Coronavirus, truth has been in short supply. We think we know COVID-19 was conceived in the wet markets of Wuhan, yet it might well have been conceived and accidentally released by the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology.
We don’t know how many souls met eternity because of this virus even there in Wuhan where it all started a few months ago.
A couple days ago, those very civil authorities of China well-known to be opposed to speaking truthfully to their people or the rest of the world finally admitted their previous death toll had been way low and they issued a revision raising those figures by fifty percent.
Mortality is not the only thing being lied about and hidden—or simply unknown. Truthfully, if we listed all the critical details about Coronavirus we don’t yet know, the list would be stunning. Start with the fact that we still aren’t sure whether or not the man who has the virus and recovers then has immunity from that virus. This is a pretty basic question but we just don’t know.
How then are Christians responding to their civil authorities in the midst of those authorities’ difficult work protecting us while having to make decisions based upon such deception and uncertainty?
At first, Christians in the Reformed part of the Church were willing to complain about their civil authorities privately to their constituency while, for public consumption, they made some show of submitting to them. We might call it belligerating compliantly. Submit to the quarantine while announcing on your podcast that the civil authorities are dumbos. In-house, the message was that constant drone of Reformed men: we’re smart and we know better.
But as I’ve been pointing out here and elsewhere, we aren’t epidemiologists. We’re not virologists. We’re not medical doctors or public health officials. We’re certainly not elected authorities nor do any of us even serve in any elected authority’s administration.
Nevertheless, those of us called to serve as shepherds of the church abused our authority to protect our sheep’s souls to undermine the authority of those God has called to protect our sheep’s bodies.
This had been the state of affairs for weeks, but as time has gone on, Reformed men have decreasingly commended submission while increasingly whipping up their constituencies over what they purport to be the suppression of religious liberty and unfair discriminatory treatment.
Getting an anti-authority mob belligerating in America today is not rocket science and the trashing of civil authorities’ COVID-19 decrees has borne its inevitable fruit. Having sown the wind of mocking, complaining, sarcasm, and we-know-betterisms, the sheep have begun milling and bahhing while making feints toward the fences and gates and head-butting their stupid shepherds.
It’s not fair. We’re being discriminated against. Our religious freedom is being violated. First it’s the unborn babies and now government is attacking Christians!
We always knew this was where the statist and mindless submissiveness of the American church would end. We have freedom of religion. We have freedom of assembly.
We’re not fools! We see what’s going on! We’re not going to take it!
Thing is, all these reformed men who know better than their civil authorities know nothing their civil authorities don’t know. Reformed men have no better data and certainly no superior understanding of law.
They are not actually superior leaders with superior wisdom. Their resistance is merely based upon those very old principles of sin Moses knew intimately while he bore the difficult authority of leading the sons of Israel to the Promised Land. What principles?
Ingratitude and rebellion.
It didn’t matter what Moses did: the heads of tribes, clans, and households knew better.
It was so nasty that Moses had to appoint one man over every ten to resolve their arguments and fights. One over every ten.
The recurrent theme in the wilderness is entirely familiar to us:
Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.”
And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”
But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me” (Exodus 17:2-4).
We know the history of the Sons of Israel in the wilderness. Will we not learn from it?
As God’s people, we are getting a reputation right now and it’s not a reputation for submission or gratitude to our civil shepherds.
Do we really believe our fomenting of rebellion against them is justified? Are our motives pure? Do we really tell ourselves we would have been submissive and grateful for Moses?
We are not being singled out for persecution. This is not a campaign to suppress the Biblical doctrine of exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not a devious plot to gag the Christian doctrine of sexuality.
The Church Herself has already done that gagging.
Dear brothers, those who agree to hold worship on Sundays through FB Live and Zoom for a few weeks have not thereby lost their faith or their legitimacy. Not in anyone’s eyes but your own and those you are misleading with your bombastic rhetoric.
Rather, quiet and submissive Christians who obey their civil authorities and thank them for their thankless work have been a balm of Gilead to their neighbors and the shepherds leading them all.
Most governors in most states are doing the best they can on the information they do not have. Stop blaming them for things that never entered their minds. Stop blaming them for having experts who disagree with each other after consuming faulty data and even faultier models. Stop hissing and catcalling at those God has commanded you to submit to and honor.
If it helps, imagine the sheep of your church treating you the way you are treating your civil shepherds. Or better, imagine the sheep of your home treating you, their husband and father, the way you are treating your governing authorities.
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior… (1Timothy 2:1-3)
It’s true that Moses would have been a better leader than those over us today. It’s true our civil authorities I’m exhorting us to be thankful for, and obey, are the very men seeking to protect the slaughter of the unborn, the marriage of sodomites, no-fault divorce, and (most of all) their own jobs. It’s true many of our laws have become so attenuated that it seems sometimes precedent has become a synonym for perversion. It’s all true, but as I’ve pointed out repeatedly in Daddy Tried (and am about to point out repeatedly in our forthcoming book on elders), since the Fall, every authority ever appointed by God has been a serious sinner.
Calvin repeatedly points out that pastors are serious sinners. He calls us our congregations’ “inferiors.” He says God could have sent angels to lead and govern and preach to His People, but He chose sinful men to humble and unite us under them.
Is this any less true of our civil authorities? Could God not have sent angels to be our governors and senators and assemblymen and presidents?
No, I am not making any argument even resembling any call to any single wife ever to submit to her husband’s beatings. Those who have accused me of this as I’ve sung this present song are simply speaking from their mouth their rebellious hearts.
If I were to write here responding to every last exception readers want to use to justify rebelling against the civil authorities’ COVID-19 decrees, I’m afraid I would get nowhere because it is our modern morbid habit to sacrifice the normal on the altar of the abnormal.
So I bring this correction, rebuke, and exhortation to an end pointing out that the Apostle Paul also was undoubtedly accused of telling battered wives to stay in their marriages and submit to their husbands when he wrote telling wives to “submit” in “everything.” He trusted that readers of goodwill would listen and repent, as do I.